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The Insolia Grape

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About Insolia

(Synonyms: Ansonica, Amsonica, Ansolia, Ansolica, Ansoliku, Ansonica Bianca, Ansora, Ansoria, Ansorica, Anzonaka, Anzonica, Anzulu, Arba Solika, Erba Insolika, Inselida, Insolia di Palermo, Insora, Inzolia, Inzolia Parchitana, Nsolia, Nsuolia, Nzolia, Nzolia Bianca, Nzolia di Lipari, Nzolia di Palermo, Soria, Zolia Bianca)

Background

Insolia grapes Map showing Sicily

Insolia is a white-wine grape most likely originating in Sicily, its chief contemporary home, but possibly long ago imported thence from Greece. Nowadays, while it is mainly grown in Sicily (chiefly in western Sicily), it also appears in some Tuscan whites (there usually listed as "Ansonica").

Insolia—also commonly spelled "Inzolia"—is much used (along with Grillo and Cataratto) in the making of Marsala, a sweet fortified wine. As is often the case with grape types used as the base for something else—from Marsala to brandy to Champagne—the base grapes are not themselves very exciting, the value of the end product being generated in the processing. Nonetheless, varietal wines are made of each of those three grapes, and Insolia and Grillo can, as table wines, occasionally reach levels of high quality.

Insolia seems chiefly to be characterized as having a "nutty aroma" (possibly oxidative); beyond that, it is a mild, modestly aromatic crisp white wine. (Be aware that the phrase "a crisp white wine" is often used as a form of damning with faint praise, suggesting a lack of any defining excellences in a harmless but unexciting white.) Indeed, Insolia is more often found in a blend with one or both of its Marsala partners than as a monovarietal; in older days, Insolia grapes kept on the vine tended to lose acidity, suiting them for use as a fortified-wine base but not as much of a varietal; modern vineyard and winemaking techniques have, however, to some degree mitigated that problem.

Frankly, it is unlikely that one will encounter a remarkable or memorable Insolia monovarietal, or even blend, but it makes a pleasant choice when an undemanding white is wanted to go with a simple lunch, perhaps of seafood. Still, many wine reviewers, writing of their Insolia experiences, report frequent disappointments relieved by the occasional little gem, so the game may be worth the candle: caveat emptor.

Factoid: The "s" versus "z" question in the spelling of this wine is mysterious. English-language web sites mostly prefer the "s" form, while Italian-language sites seem to use the "z" form more— but that "rule" is very far from universal. Que sera, sera.


Some Descriptions of Insolia Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Ansonica or Inzolia is a white Italian wine grape planted primarily in western Sicily where it can be used to produce Marsala wine. The grape is noted for its nutty aroma. In Tuscany, the grape is known as Ansonica. It is the chief (and potentially only) component of the Tuscan D.O.C. Ansonica Costa dell'Argentario, which is located on the extreme southern coast of Tuscany and on the island of Giglio."

  • Wine Searcher

    "While it is most famous traditionally as an ingredient in the fortified Marsala wines, it is now seen more and more as a crisp, dry white wine, in blends and as a single variety. Inzolia wines are moderately aromatic, and tend to display nutty, citrusy characters with herbal notes. . . Today, Inzolia is found across Sicily, particularly in Palermo and Agrigento. It is permitted as a blending grape in many of the island's DOC appellations, adding a nutty weight to wines made with Catarratto and Grillo. Inzolia's tendancy to lose acidity late in the season means that it has long been a building block of Marsala wines, but improved winemaking techniques and a change in fashions has seen Inzolia's place in Sicilian winemaking change significantly. In Tuscany, the variety is known as Ansonica and is planted in the coastal Maremma, as well as on a small island 10 miles (16km) offshore called Giglio. It rivals Vermentino in popularity, often joining it in blends to make simple, dry white wines with good character. Some producers in the region are making more interesting wines, using techniques such as fermenting the grapes on the skins for extra flavor, as Ansonica has unusually high levels of tannin for a white wine."

  • Wine Geeks

    "Increasingly found as a table wine that can be perfumed and well-built with lots of structure and viscosity. It can also be flabby if yields get too high. Notes of almonds, citrus fruits and fresh herbs are common. A well-made Inzolia can have a beautiful deep golden/green color."

  • Tom Stevenson, The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, quoted by Michael Janiszewski (Jakob's Bowl)

    "Insolia, a minor grape farmed mainly in western Sicily, yields a rich, dry white wine with a captivating bitter-orange scent, grapefruit-like zestiness and nutty flavor."

  • 1000 Grape Escapes

    "It’s not my favorite grape, much like Chardonnay isn’t my favorite grape, and it shares some of those similar round, oily characteristics that make the wine crazy popular. People with “I <3 Chard" shirts should be very about this grape [sic] when they can locate it in that enormous encyclopedia of Italian wines that comes with dinner. With my overriding bias for hugely lean, nearly anorexic wines, this grape had an uphill battle from the beginning. And if we're looking at a menu and Chardonnay and Inzolia are both listed, Inzolia's going to win (except maybe against Naked Chardonnay). This Inzolia’s got that citric promise that presumably comes from Arab oranges grown in Sicily. My five second tasting notes said – Citrus nose of lemon and lime with some oily smell but round body of cantaloupe, mango and a little pineapple. Extreme acidity with a pretty long finish for a white (even though it’s a thin finish)."

  • Fringe Wine

    "As the production of high-end Marsala has fallen, Inzolia has given way to Catarratto, which is more widely used for low-end Marsala production. Inzolia is still relatively widely planted, though, as current Sicilian acreage stands at around 19,000 acres. As table wine production has taken off in Sicily over the past few decades, more and more of the existing Inzolia plantings have been used for that purpose as well. . . Inzolia does have a tendency to get flabby if not picked early enough."


Some Insolias to Try

(About this list.)

Be wary when sampling any so-called "Insolia" (or Inzolia or Ansonica), because blends are very common and are not always prominently labelled or described as such by retailers. Theer is nothing wrong with blends—by and large, winemakers do them because they think the result worth the work—but if you are still developing a sense for a varietal, you ideally want it in pure form. Fortunately, most monovarietal Insolias are quite modestly priced.

A few of the Insolias we list below are relatively scarce (few on-line retailers shown), but we included them anyway because they have some good recomendations. Note also that many of these wines have only a few on-line reviews.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Feudi del Pisciotto Baglio del Sole Inzolia, $5 - $14.
    (Beware: they also make a blend of Inzolia and Cataratto.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Here’s a simple, clean white wine that opens with grassy tones, citrus and stone fruit aromas. The mouthfeel is somewhat heavy and thick. 84 points.

    Well-structured, with notes of almond and citrus, Baglio del Sole, Inzolia, is nothing more than a friendly wine that it doesn’t hide itself, it comes to you, just to be enjoyed.

    This simple wine holds somewhat oxidized aromas of caramelized orange slices and flint that carry over to the palate along with lemon-lime. 84 points.

    [Google-translated from Italian] Inzolia Baglio del Sole in 2012 is one of the best, most fragrant and dense of the millennium.


  • Cusumano Insolia, $8 - $20.
    (Don't confuse this basic "Terre Siciliane" with their more-expensive "Cubia" bottling.)
         ($14.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This bright wine opens with aromas of white flowers and citrus. The palate offers juicy lemon-lime and white almond alongside crisp acidity that gives it a clean, fresh finish. 86 points.

    2012 vintage: A beautiful insolia with intensity and energy and a fresh and clean sliced apple and pear character. I find a fascinating volcanic ash undertone. 90 points.
    2013 vintage: A bright and fruity white with sliced apple and pear. Full to medium body, fresh acidity and a bright finish. Mango and green papaya. Made from high altitude vineyards near Palmero. A fabulous value. 91 points.


    Cusumano’s Insolia is a pale straw color. On the nose it’s fruity- not dry but not sweet. One can smell a lovely amalgamation of pineapple, citrus peel and soft hints of floral scents floating in the wind. It is mildly acidic with a medium body, tart but not mouth-puckeringly so. There’s a decent finish, but it doesn’t linger for a while. It’s a combination of so many things, much like the storied island of Sicily. If you like Vinho Verde, Sauvignon Blanc or Citrus-forward Chardonnays, you’ll enjoy this.

    [O]n its own, the Insolia is an absolutely beautiful wine, one that makes all that $15 and $20 grocery store stuff taste like the boring, dull grape juice that so much of it is. Look for some lemon fruit and baking spices, but using terms like that shortchanges the wine. The whole is definitely bigger than the parts; this is a rich and full wine that not only pairs with seafood, but that makes you think of seafood as you’re drinking it. Highly recommended.

    Ray Isle of Food and Wine magazine, whose opinion we respect, described the wine to have "pale straw color, On the nose it's fruity- not dry but not sweet. amalgamation of pineapple, citrus peel and soft floral scents mildly acidic with a medium body, tart but not mouth-puckeringly Sauvignon Blanc or Citrus-forward Chardonnays."

    We pulled off the odd (but charming) glass cork to find a light, floral white with a sweet-smelling, bright nose. If the wine is meant to conjure up a sense of place, then Sicily must be a land of green grass, honeysuckle, and ripe melon. The finish? Crisp and dry, but with a balanced savoriness that would work well during the beginning, middle, or end of a meal.

    Refreshing. Balanced. Floral. Tree fruit. A trace of citrus.

    Delicious best buy in fragrant, clean white with long-lasting flavors.

    Feeling pretty golden. Lemon, apple, honey, cinnamon, and golden flowers on the nose. Honeyed apple dessert on the palate with yellow flowers, pear, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Yum! 4/5.


  • Baglio di Pianetto Insolia, $10.
    (Here again, the maker also does several blends with Insolia, so have a care what bottling you are considering.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Easy, fresh and light, this luminous Insolia offers aromas of lemon candy and citrus-flavored soda followed by zesty acidity. 85 points.

    Pale brassy white with brilliant brassy reflections and white rim. The bouquet is fresh, with floral accents and some white pear bitterness mingled with hyacinth and slight sea salt. On the palate it’s bright, with fairly rich pineapple fruit supported by bright pineapple acidity and slight brambles, with hints of underlying sweetness that make it more ingratiating, and flow into a clean bright fairly sweet finish. Quite approachable, and is a wine that will work well by the glass as well.

    A soft pressing and fermentation with selected yeasts follows a cold maceration. The wine rests in stainless steel for four months before bottling. On the nose: lemongrass, lemon peel, pink peppercorn, pineapple, white flowers, and crushed rocks. Super-fruity with some sweetness but balanced by a marked minerality.

    [A] lovely white that has a lightly peachy nose, flecked with apricots and oranges. Also look for hints of graham cracker. The body follows suit, showing some of that vanilla you find in the Ficiligno, but drinking really wonderfully on its own. Look for a bit more earthiness up front here than with the aforementioned wine, but with a finish that’s both sweet and tart, and more citrus-driven. "A"

    [Google-translated from Italian] The grapes Insolia give life to this well-structured wine and fragrant floral notes. The taste is a wine of great body and with the right balance. Excellent harmony and persistence of aromas.


  • Valle dell'Acate Tenuta Ibidini Insolia, $10 - $15.
    (This is the maker's entry-level Insolia; it was till recently branded "Case Ibidini".)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A slightly medicinal note to this, herbal and nutty, with a really nice palate that has all the dry, nutty, apple and melon fruit along with a nice bit of grip - like melon skins and tangy citrus rind - and a balanced finish. 89/100.

    2013 vintage: Aromas suggest citrus and stone fruit. The juicy palate delivers white peach, green apple and a hint of lemon zest alongside soft but refreshing acidity. It’s simple but well-made with a clean finish. 86 points.
    2011 vintage: A simple citrus aroma provides for a fresh and inviting bouquet. Peach, pear and green apple touches give the wine added brightness and buoyancy. 86 points.


    A very drinkable Italian white wine from Case Ibidini, a second label offering from Valle dell'Acate, a rising star in the Italian wine world. . . The wine is 100% Insolia, a native Sicilian grape, that is aged for four months in stainless steel tanks and another two to three months in the bottle. Deep straw-yellow color. Fragrant floral and citrus nose. Refreshing acidity.

    This Insolia impressed the entirety of the group and the one descriptor that the group kept harping on was ‘smooth’. We are talking baby butt smooth, Dove soap commercial smooth, Marvin Gaye smooth. Yeah, that smooth. In addition to the ultra silky, sexy, smooth palate, this vino is incredibly fragrant with lemon verbena, yellow pear and fresh daffodil aromas.

    Light and bright, with gilded edges to the silver. Peach and very light hazelnut on the nose. Small hint of pear drop. Soft, with that rounded Mediterranean white feel to it that sort of drops in the middle of the palate and spreads out from there. White fruits with a bit of pear, and hazelnuts. This is pretty simple stuff. A good summer white that won't leave scratching your head, looking for nuance.


  • Feudo Principi di Butera Insolia, $13 - $18.
         ($17.24 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This luscious rich wine is has all the delightful flavors of Insolia, but it is richer, with honey and nuts, and a silky almost unctuous quality. I adore it and so has every one I've poured it for.

    This estate (owned by the Zonin family) has recently overhauled its white wine program, and the excellent results show with this beautiful Insolia. Fragrant citrus and peach aromas are followed by a creamy thickness and a spicy citrus-like intensity. 89 points.

    Insolia, a minor grape farmed mainly in western Sicily, yields a rich, dry white wine with a captivating bitter-orange scent, grapefruit-like zestiness and nutty flavor. The 2006 Insolia from Feudo Principi di Butera, owned by Zonin, a major producer, can be pleasurably inhaled for minutes. Drink it, lightly chilled, with calamari, crab cakes, oysters, scallops and halibut.

    [S]o gentle I almost don’t want to breathe lest I upset its reverie. Just a touch of tingle on the tongue reminds me that this indeed made from a fruit; every other note is just pure silk. The dry grass with a nutty tone is balanced with a spray of tropical fruits, almost a creamy pineapple. Yes, I know “creamy” and “pineapple” don’t generally go together, but that’s just what this wine makes me think of. Feudo Principi di Butera ferments its Insolia in steel barrels and allows it to age in the bottle, which likely accounts for the hint of fizz on the palate. What I find interesting is that this wine retains its dry, spry features (thanks to the steel barrels) while somehow achieving the creamy quality common in oak-aged wines. It is not smoky or oaky, but is somehow still smooth and almost buttery without the butter flavor. Confused yet? Yes, that’s because this is a wine the likes of which you have probably never tasted.

    The color of golden straw evokes images of sunny summer days and warm breezy evenings. Aromas of mango and almond intermingle with flavors of pineapple, peach and more mango. A slight effervescence hits mid palate, the finish is well balanced and delectable.

    The few [Insolias] I’ve tasted have been unimpressive. But this one is so mouthwatering and fresh it rescued a faltering imagination. Like most Italian whites it is reserved; aromas don’t leap out of the glass. But there is plenty of complexity if you seek it out. Citrus, mango, and wet stones predominate with flowers and pine hovering in the background. The palate is very dry, with a plump medium body and satisfying lemony finish. Think a shy Viognier with acid. But what it lacks in big flavors it makes up for with brio. It is one of those wines that makes your mouth feel like New Orleans jazz—alive, spunky, always moving.

    [Q]uite refreshing and zesty, with bright lemony fruit and floral, nutty and herbal notes. It is light bodied, with crisp, citrusy acidity.

    The color is golden honey yellow with a soft green glow. The nose is seductive, melons, lemons, pears and papaya surrounded by bouquets of fresh cut flowers. Insolia, where have you been all my life, it tastes of grapefruit and lime, peach and pear, just when the citrus is about to taste too sharp the fruit softens the acidity, just when the fruit is about to become sweet, the citrus sends the flavor in another direction. The mid palate adds a hint of minerality, a touch of creaminess and a slight almost salty nutty flavor. The acidity is very well balanced, more than enough to handle spicy food but not too much to make it a challenge to drink on its own. The finish is a combination of sweet fruit and sour citrus and it lasts and lasts.

    The Feudo Principi Di Butera Insolia really exhibits that rich yellow tone when first poured in the glass. It has an aroma that nicely combines fruits and flowers. Where this wine really stood out was in how dry and balanced it was. I tend to shy away from almost any sweetness in my white wines, so this flavor profile really meshed with me.


  • Firriato Ansonica "Chiaramonte", $12 - $19.
    (This is a Tuscan Ansonica, apparently the only one reasonably available in the U.S.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Look: Pale yellow greenish tinted hue, light despite its 13% alcohol level. Nose: Slightly herbal and grassy with a kiss of lemon, lime and green pear. It also shows a nice mineral streak to it. Palate: Very light and fresh with a laser beam of acidity mid with a strangely soft mouthfeel. Light and whimsical with white stone fruit, thinking pear and white peach. It has a bone dry, floral finish that begs for seared scallops with good length. This is one of those surprising finds that makes wine geeks like us really excited. For the price, it demonstrates so many interesting and delicious contradiction of flavour and olfactory sensations. 92 points.

    Chiaramonte is an easy, refreshing expression of Ansonica (one of Sicily’s most celebrated native white grape varieties) that would pair with most fish -or vegetable-based dishes. The wine finishes with cool crispness. 87 points.

    Lean and crisp, this white whispers peach and flowers and would be best enjoyed with lean cuisine, such as poached fish and steamed fiddleheads.

    Overly ripe pineapple. A bit passed it [2006 vintage in 2009], but still entertaining. Honeysuckle. Fresh acidity, ripe pear. Surprising length.

    For being a big producer (around 5 millions of bottles a year) Firriato’s wines are quite individual in style. The Ansonica is for me a good modern approach to wine but still with the Sicilian touch; salted almonds, green apples, herbs and citrus peel. The aromas sends me to Sicily and to a trattoria where I’m sitting sipping Ansonica, waiting for my grilled fish to show up. Good acidity grip, almost sour lemons, green apples, almonds and a hint of chalk. Simply a summer wine, refreshing and yet with character.

    Planted mostly in Sicily but also Tuscany for its aromatics and nuttiness potential. This is a mid gold and leaves a film that sticks then slowly drains from the rim showing some slow tearing. Light floral with a light citrus for a nose while the first sip is smooth, medium-bodied and with a citrus leaning. The finish has a silky texture while the flavour mellows to a tangy melon. A tad hollow as a sipper but interesting for its aloof tang and texture. Acids may fade paired with seasoned entrees, was OK with bbq'd lemon sprinkled chicken - likely better with hard shelled seafoods.


  • D'Alessandro Inzolia, $14 - $18.
    (Despite some write-ups, this is 100% Inzolia, not a blend.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    As soon as you open this you know that you're not dealing with your run of the mill white. It has a dark and yeasty aroma, very earthy, with medium acidity, light white peach flavor with a strong citric finish.

    A natural expression of the Agrigento region, d’Alessandro’s Inzolia is a white wine full of elegance and pleasure. Hints of citrus combine with fragrances of white flower to create a fine, balanced taste with just the right amount of acidity. Suitable for both winter and summer, its full character can be best enjoyed accompanied by fine food.

    This particular wine is light and crispy with a distinct almond like nuttiness to it. I receive a lot of wines as free samples, and end up pouring a fair amount down the sink after a half bottle. This wine, however, I enjoyed on back to back nights. It’s just an easy to drink, light wine, with a little bit of complexity to make it interesting enough to keep for a second night, if you don’t drink the whole bottle. 86 points.

    This Sicilian Inzolia releases fresh aromas of citrus, sage, passion fruit, pear and apple. The wine feels fresh, zippy and clean overall. 85 points.

    Beautifully scented nose that reminds me of pineapple, lime juice and fresh Granny Smith apples. I'm really enjoying the aromatics and it's easy to close my eyes and imagine a cafe in Sicily right on the seashore, sipping this wine under a springtime sun while I ponder a citrus-marinated grilled white fish resting on a bed of polenta. .  If acidity in a white wine can be elegant, the d'Alessandro embodies that theory. The wine has life, a zippy seam of acidity that mixes around with toasted almonds and lime juice. Around the edges of those two primary flavors comes some weight, a glycerin component not entirely different than what I've discovered in some wines from Soave. Vibrant, ripe apples on the finish make up the sweet fruit component while that seam of acid gently fades away, giving a very pleasing linear feel. The 2009 d'Alessandro Inzolia kicks ass. Probably the main reason this inzolia remains so fresh is because it sees no malo-lactic treatment or oak barrel aging, rather just four months in stainless steel tanks and two months in bottle before it is released. B+ and a SOLID BUY recommendation.

    This particular blend has a very distinct, robust lingering flavor and after taste. If you are more of a “light” flavor and finish then this is not the wine for you! I recommend this to those that enjoy a full body flavor and strong finish.

    [A] white wine full of elegance and pleasure. Hints of citrus combine with fragrances of white flower to create a fine, balanced taste with just the right amount of acidity.

    [G]olden yellow coloured and seems to contain the rays of the sun. . . As you gaze upon, inhale and sip this wine you sense a higher power. It is made as "natural expression of the Agrigento region, d’Alessandro’s Inzolia is a white wine full of eleganceD'alessandro inzolia and pleasure." (Wine-maker.) The wine has "hints of citrus combined with fragrances of white flower to create a fine, balanced taste with just the right amount of acidity." We had one word as we tasted this wine, "Wow." It is a very likely candidate for our favorite summer wine. With a low alcohol level of 12% it can be enjoyed all day.

    d’Alessandro’s Inzolia white wine is the perfect medium bodied wine, with a delicate hint of citrus.

    The d’Alessandro white wine offering is a 100% Inzolia. Harvested early in the season and aged four months in stainless steel and two months in the bottle, it is not the typical ‘oaky’ Sicilian white wine. The d’Alessandro Inzolia is light and easy to drink and pairs well with cooked fish, raw fish and white meats.


  • Caruso & Minini "Terre di Giumara" Inzolia, $15 - $16.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Behind its pale yellow color with slight green reflects, this Inzolia is bright, lush, fruity and textured with characteristic nutty aromas and fresh notes of citrus and herbs. Slight touches of sea breeze aromas gently transport you to the coast of Sicily. Fairly rich and balanced, enhancing acidity and minerality (even a touch of saltiness...) bring some complexity to this uncomplicated and gentle white wine.

    The 2008 vintage [of Caruso & Manini Inzolia Terre di Giumara] was recognized as the top single variety wine that best represent the Inzolia grape. Such recognition was given by the panel of tasting experts of the Italian magazine Il Mio Vino, who also added Caruso & Minini is today “a flagship of the Sicilian quality.”

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 87 points.

    Terre di Giumara is a fresh and tight white wine with bright yellow fruit, peach and honey-roasted almond. The wine is full and ripe, with a touch of piquant spice on the close. 87 points.

    Lower acid gives way to riper fruit and a palate that’s almost off-dry but not quite; baked pear dominates the flavours, with hints of slightly caramelized banana and pineapple in the background. It’s slightly creamy, which is nice – but not blousy by any means – and there’s a sprinkle and a half of minerality as well. I dig it, especially at the nice price point. Eyes: clear, pale lemon, legs. Nose: clean, med+ intensity, youthful, green fruit, baked pear, pineapple, hint banana, mineral. Mouth: dry, med+ body, med- acid, med+ intensity, med finish, green fruit, baked pear, pineapple, mineral, baked apple, savoury.

    [Inzolia] is finding its way quite successfully as a dry varietal wine, like this tasty warm-weather libation with light floral, almond and lemon-lime aromas and flavors and vibrant acidity. It is light-bodied, fresh and lively.

    Peppermint, fresh, clean nose. Good acidity, very fresh with tropical and white stone fruit on the palate, very easy and pleasing to drink.

    Straw yellow. Attractive spicy citrus nose with hints of tropical fruit, but could be longer on the palate.

    Pale straw-lime in colour, the 2010 Terre di Giumara Inzolia displays notes of subtle lemony white peaches; switching to green apples, straw, and wet stones. Palate: nice fruit showing, with balanced acidity, and a hint of lemony green apples on the finish. Straightforward, cheerful, and fresh.

    Citrus, green melon, minerals, glycerol; ripe, medium body and balanced acidity. One heck of a $12 table wine. This will be great with pan fried white fish or oysters. 87 pts.


For a Splurge

There do not seem to be any Insolia/Ansonica wines available (at other than "rarity" availability) in the U.S. that are what one ight reasonably call "splurge level" in quality.



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